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If you have a nut allergy like Caleb does, the secret may be in your genes

B.C. researchers discover peanut allergy gene
Researchers at Vancouver’s St. Paul’s Hospital have made a discovery that could help parents prevent potentially deadly peanut reactions in their children. Linda Aylesworth reports.

At just one and a half years old, Caleb was taken to the hospital with welts up and down his body.

The cause? A small cashew that caused inflammations throughout his body, according to his mom Janey Yu.

Coverage of peanut allergies on Globalnews.ca:

He could hardly breathe when he made it to the emergency room.

“There were welts coming up his body, welts in his groin and it seemed to be moving towards the chest area,” she told Global News.

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But that wasn’t the last of his reactions to nuts; he’s endured similar ones twice now.

“Every time that it’s happened, I am terrified, I’m terrified of losing him,” Yu said.

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So now, at three and a half years old, Caleb is learning how to use an EpiPen, and is even testing out the instrument on Cooper, his teddy bear.

READ MORE: A peanut allergy ‘cure’ may be on its way. Here’s how it works

The cause of his allergy, which affects about one in 200 children across Canada, has occupied researchers around the world. And an effort led by the Canadian Peanut Allergy Registry may have finally found clues as to the cause of the allergy, if not a cure any time soon.

Researchers have identified a gene called EMSY, and they hope that one day it will help in the identification of people who have the allergy before full-blown symptoms develop.

“What we’ve discovered I think is really groundbreaking,” Dr. Denise Daley, principal investigator with the Centre for Heart Lung Innovation at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver, told Global News.

“We’ve identified genes that predispose to the development of peanut allergy and to food allergy in general.”

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The discovery of the gene could potentially help with early introduction of nuts, so that people’s immune systems don’t react to the peanut antigen.

Such early introductions are known as “oral immunotherapy,” and right now, Caleb’s parents are using it on his little sister Chloe.

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“Caleb, having this condition, means that we are giving Chloe early exposure,” Yu said.

“We have her licking peanut butter off of spoons.”

READ MORE: Give your baby peanut-based foods early to prevent allergy: new guidelines

The results of this treatment are promising.

Meanwhile, researchers are still looking into the gene that causes the allergy in the first place.